Children are an Heritage

Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

A number of years ago my dad found he had a small spare farm sitting around. It had turned out to be too far from his primary farm to serve the purpose for which he had originally bought it. Thus my dad decided to divide the extra 220 acre farm between my youngest brother and me, the two of his five children who are given to rural living. Tim and I and our children have now made our home on our portion (we call it Pleasant Hill Farm) for over 11 years.

We love this land – it has gorgeous hills, including one we’ve christened Majestic Mountain, plenty of woods, a few hay fields, and some tillable acreage. It’s been a wonderful gift, an inheritance of sorts, from my parents.

But though we live on a farm, we are not farmers. Sure, we have a garden, a couple of goats and a dozen chickens, but those are just part of our plan to give our children healthy work. Tim spends most of his working time caring for his construction business, and I am far too busy raising children to consider raising corn, soybeans, or cattle. Thankfully, we have a tenant farmer who cares for the tillable land, but much of the other acreage is sadly neglected. Our hay fields desperately need bushhogging and fertilizing, our fence rows are a mess, and even my once beautiful walking trails are becoming overgrown with briars as other responsibilities have pressed in on us in recent years. Our gift is one that requires labor to maintain it.

Children, Psalm 127 tells us, are a gift, or an inheritance. The word used is “nachalah”, translated heritage, inheritance, estate, heirloom, or portion. When we hear someone has received an inheritance these days, we often assume it is in the form of money. But in the days of Solomon, author of Psalm 127, an inheritance was much more likely to be in the form of land. And land, while a valuable and wonderful gift, is one that comes with responsibility and labor attached to it.

This framework is helpful to me as I dwell on the amazing gift that children are to a married couple. Throughout the Bible we see God’s blessing associated with the gift of children. Just today my middle children and I were studying from the first chapters in Exodus and we read about the Hebrew midwives who refused to kill the newborn boy babies. How did God reward them? He blessed them with households of their own! (Ex. 1:21)

The idea that children are a blessing is a strange one in the culture at large. I can’t tell you how many times after I’ve mentioned that I have nine children, someone has responded with a shocked gasp, “I can’t handle the one (two) I have!” The implication is why would anyone be crazy enough to have so many children? Yes, it is very right and necessary for us as believers to hold forth the beauty of the gift of children.

The parallel truth we need to soberly remember is that children are not a simple gift like a bank account, but rather they are an inheritance like land, one that comes with a great deal of labor and responsibility attached. If we want to raise children that will be well-aimed arrows, we need to invest our time each day in teaching, training, correcting, discipling, modeling, and praying with and for them. At the same time, we must entrust them to His care, not relying on our own vain efforts, since apart from His grace, no good work will be done in their lives. Our responsibility it to sow and water, but the life and growth comes from the Lord.

Doug Wilson says in Reforming Marriage:

The passage from Psalm 127 noted above is frequently cited by Christians as they talk about the blessings of family. This is good, but we must notice what the real blessing is. The psalm is not talking about the patter of little feet around the house (although, of course, that is nice). The psalm says that sons are like arrows to a man when he contends with his enemies in the gate. The blessing being referred to here is the blessing of grown sons, well brought up, and prepared for battle. This is the result of a man spending himself for several decades on his children. If a man has a large number of sons, and he has not reared them properly, he has a quiver full all right, but it is a quiver full of grief – crooked and broken arrows.

Sometimes it bothers me that our fences ought to be rebuilt or our hay fields reseeded. But it never bothers me for long. The inheritance we care about is raising godly children, not in building up a pristine farm. The consequences are too great to ignore the training of our children as we so often ignore the proper husbandry of our farm. Yes, let’s remember to rejoice and honor the gift of children, but also let us not be slack in the caretaking of those whom the Lord graciously gifts us with.


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